Sunday, April 24, 2011

Evacuation procedures for Iitate

Masashi sent the following information regarding the evacuation procedures for Iitate village.
"On April 22, the Japanese prime minister officially announced the inclusion of Iitate village into the evacuation area. They are designated to complete the evacuation within a month (by the end of May). The national government dispatched several public officers to set up a task force for evacuation within the Iitate village office. They are expected to help Iitate village to complete this evacuation smoothly.

Iitate village also announced the basic principles for evacuation and set a priority of residents to be evacuated. Families with babies or pregnant woman should be given first priority, and then families with person aged less than 18 years old, and three districts which showed higher level of radioactivity. All residents would be eventually evacuated to hotels or apartment houses designated by the village. Gymnastic halls, typically used for temporal shelters after the disaster, are not used in this case."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iitate Mayor meets with the Prime Minister

Masashi reported the following.

"Today (April 19) Japan's Prime Minister, Mr. Kan Naoto, met with Iitate mayor Mr. Kanno at the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo. The Prime Minister explained the situation of the nuclear power plant and background of the decision to designate Iitate village and several other municipalities as part of the evacuation areas. Mayor Kanno argued there is such a huge risk arising from the evacuation of the whole village, and asked the Prime Minister to understand this kind of hardship. Prime Minister Kan apologized to him and asked for Mayor Kanno's cooperation for this evacuation plan."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Iitate plans for evacuation

Masashi provided this update of the evacuation plans for Iitate.

"On April 16 and 17, Iitate village received a series of visits by officials of Cabinet Secretariat, including Mr. Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretariat, and Mr. Fukuyama, Vice Chief Cabinet Secretariat. In Iitate village, Mr. Edano discussed the government plan for evacuation with Mayor Kanno and residents. Participants of the meeting have raised their deep concerns on their future, and expressed their discomfort with the way in which the government announced the evacuation plan without prior notice to the village. Mr. Fukuyama mentioned the plan to move Iitate cattle to another place to continue their livestock farming. However, some farmers feel it is very difficult to do that, and the brand name of Iitate beef would be difficult to maintain. Already Iitate beef is suffering from lower price because of this situation.

On April 12, the village’s assembly (parliament) had a meeting with village officials and agricultural cooperatives, and adopted a resolution to stop all kinds of planting this year.

Between April 13 and 16, Iitate village had a series of community meetings on how to respond to the evacuation plan. There was much discussion, but there was so much uncertainty in terms of the impact of radiation, the duration of the evacuation, the lingering negative image to Iitate products, the level of compensation from the electric company and government, and so on.

On April 17, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) released their working plan for the restoration of the nuclear power plant. Based on their plan, it takes about 6 to 9 months to restore the plant and establish a containment system of radioactive materials. This means radiation would continue to spill out throughout this year or even until early next year. It is crucial to estimate how much radioactive materials, such as cesium, would be accumulated around the plant by the end of this year, and assess the impact on farming and fishing."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crisis assessment raised to Level 7

Masashi sent the following e-mail today.

"Today (April 12) the government released the result of a reassessment of the crisis level of the Fukushima nuclear plant. It is set to "Level 7". This is the highest level based on the international standard. Level 7 is the same level as the Chernobyl disaster. While the government emphasized the differences from Chernobyl - where a catastrophic explosion of the reactor chamber occurred, this reassessment is now taken very seriously in Japan and abroad. This will have far-reaching impacts on the economy. Also this indicates that complete stabilization of the plant may still take a long time."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Iitate village now under evacuation orders

Masashi e-mailed me today with the following news.

"Today (April 11) the Japanese government announced an expansion of the evacuation zone, and Iitate village as a whole is now included in that zone. This newly added zone is designated based on data suggesting that residents would be exposed to more than 20 milli Sv per year if this situation continues. Four other municipalities or parts of them in Fukushima prefecture were also included in the zone. Residents are requested to evacuate within a month. Now Iitate residents have come to face a very big problem.

Today, we also had rather large aftershocks: one of them was 7.1 magnitude, exactly once month later of the 3.11 earthquake.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Concordia students win award for Japanese support

Upon receiving news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a group of students at Concordia university organized a fund-raising campaign - selling baked goods and gathering contributions. On Friday, their hard work was recognized with a Concordia Council on Student Life Award. They have decided to pass on their contributions to Peace Winds Japan - the same group with which Mao has been working over the last few months. I have attached a photo of the group that I took at the awards ceremony. Tomoe, one of the members, is currently in Japan pursuing her PhD work so she was unable to be in the photo.

Mayor Kanno on Iitate's future

Masashi sent the following message today.

"Today (April 9) the Agricultural Minister, Mr. Kano, visited Iitate village and other rural areas affected by the earthquake and discussed the rehabilitation measures for the future. News media reported that Iitate mayor Kanno proposed to the Minister that biofuel crops, such as rapeseed or sunflowers would be one of the options in Iitate village, and the mayor hopes Iitate can develop an excellent rehabilitation model based on cooperation among industry/government/academics in order to survive the current nuclear crisis.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) announced on April 8 that rice planting should be suspended this year in paddy fields that show higher levels of radiation (over 5,000 Bq/kg of cesium in the soil). In addition, harvested rice in other areas which show lower levels should have their radiation levels tested before selling.

With respect to Peter’s questions regarding the rural market and Awano’s situation, I do not have enough information to answer them in a satisfactory fashion.
However, it seems to me that recovering the rural market would take time. It will be a long process and we do not see how long it takes at this point. It is no exaggeration to say that no one in Japan can escape from the huge impact of the earthquake. Huge damage has affected the fishing, farming, manufacturing, and tourist industries, and so on in Japan. The loss of foreign labourers would affect various sectors in Japan. It is difficult to say when they would decide to return to Japan under the current condition of the Fukushima nuclear plant. The government has proposed various types of transitional loans with lower interest rates, and compensation schemes to affected industries. A recently released plan for the first supplementary budget reached more than US$30 billion. In order to overcome this critical situation, the current ruling party (Democratic Party) is seeking an alliance with the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), the former ruling party. It is referred to as a grand alliance. The political game has now begun."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Soil, evacuation, and fishing update

Masashi sent the following e-mail yesterday.

"Yesterday (April 6), Fukushima prefecture released the results of the soil tests. The soil samples were taken from 70 sites within the prefecture. Again, soil taken from Iitate village has shown the highest level of cesium (15,301 Bq/kg) which is 150 times higher than the safe limit. Soil samples taken from 6 other municipalities also showed higher cesium than the safe limit. Based on these results, the prefectural government asked farmers in these areas not to start farming. Farmers living in other municipalities excluding 8 municipalities around the nuclear plant can start farming now. The prefectural government continues the soil study and will take soil samples again from these municipalities.

The Japanese government (Nuclear Safety Commission) is now providing new guidelines for evacuation. The upper limit for the accumulated exposure of radiation is 20 Sv/year. Even outside of the evacuation zone (less than 20 km from the nuclear plant) or indoor stay zone (20-30 km), the exposure exceeds this 20 Sv/year limit in some areas. Based on these new guidelines, on April 6, Iitate village decided to evacuate pregnant women and babies outside the village. They will be given shelters in Fukushima city provisionally for about one month. Since it seems to take time to complete the containment measures of radioactive materials at the power plant, Iitate village and other municipalities will need to take further actions to evacuate residents outside of these areas.

The fishing industry in Fukushima and now Ibaraki prefectures is severely affected by the power plant. Fish caught in the Pacific Ocean near Ibaraki showed high levels of radioactive cesium (526 Bq/kg). After this detection, all fishing activities are suspended in Ibaraki prefecture.

One of the hot topics yesterday (April 6) was criticism against action taken by officials of the power plant who poured contaminated water into the sea without prior notice to the prefectural government and fishing companies. After a series of detections of high level radioactive iodine and cesium in the sea water near Fukushima, consumption of raw fish is gradually affected by these incidents.

Radiation in fish caught off Ibaraki hits local fishing industry (Mainichi Daily News)"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Peter Apedaile sent in the following comments and questions. As usual, they are stimulating and positive. Thanks, Peter.

"Lots of good news of success and raw courage. Talked with Nobuhiro the other day and he reported that supply chains have been repaired for food and that main railline and highway transport have been mostly restored. We talked about weak government and whether this calamity will be a game changer as far as regionalizing politics is concerned. Will prefecture governors become the new power-brokers as the recent elections suggest? Will the emphasis on self reliance for coping with the disaster shift the funding formulas for local rural government away from dependence on central government handouts? Is the whole dysfunctional national party structure so shaken by the disaster that it may be replaced by something like territorial coalitions of interests? Could a national unity problem be on the horizon?

I wonder if Masashi could comment on progress in restoring rural markets. Has financing been put in place for interrupted cash flows and farm/commerce/SME debt servicing? It seems so important to get people back to work and to restore income flows. It is important to tackle any sense of hopelessness over rural debt obligations while the local economy recovers. Can the precautionary market bans be reversed safely yet? And in Awano, have the auto parts plants reopened? How 'normal' is life in Awano and Iitate?

How is Mayor Kanno and his team doing? Are they dealing with radiation refugees? Has he any requests for what we could 'work on' that would help him out as his emphasis shifts to economic restoration and revitalization?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tsunamis and Japanese Literature

I'm a little late in posting this e-mail from Masashi that he sent last weekend. It includes a lovely story about the way in which tsunamis are part of the narrative and literary history of Japan.

"This time Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima prefectures had devastating damage from the tsunami. Among these three prefectures, Iwate has experienced many tsunami disasters in the past. In 1896, Iwate prefecture had a tsunami disaster that was believed to be the largest tsunami disaster until the latest earthquake happened.

Irish novelist Lafcadio Hearn, very popular in Japan under his Japanese name, Yakumo Koizumi, wrote a short story just after the 1896 tsunami disaster. In this short novel you can see the Japanese way of life and religious beliefs of the old days.

The latter part of the story was written based on an anecdote of another tsunami that happened in Wakayama prefecture in the southern part of Honsyu (biggest) island of Japan. That anecdote was rewritten by a Japanese teacher and adopted as part of a Japanese elementary school textbook before WWII. [The story tells how a village leader saved villagers from a tsunami disaster by sacrificing his rice harvest.]

You can read "A LIVING GOD" written by Lafcadio Hearn via the following link.

I just happened to read this story quite recently. It really shows us how the tsunami is an inevitable part of Japanese history and we need to pass on our experience from generation to generation."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

An update from the field

Mao has now been in the field working for Peace Winds - Japan. She has taken time out from her activities to give us a brief update on her situation. I have included it below.

In it she mentions an "introduction". This refers to an e-mail I sent introducing her to Tomoe - a Concordia student I met at the fund-raising table set up by Concordia students to support the Japanese recovery. Tomoe and her friends were selling baking goods to raise these funds. They have also decided to send their proceeds to Peace Winds - Japan: the organization for which Mao is working. I was delighted to discover these connections among our students.

"Thank you very much for your introduction yet I'm really sorry that I couldn't respond to you sooner. I'm occupied with so much work right now as you can imagine, and I don't have time to check e-mails often - especially after the Bill Gates Foundation announced that they will make a donation to Mercy Corps and Peace Winds of over 1 billion yen to reconstruct Japan. You can imagine how much work it will allow us to do, but we have to plan really carefully.

Yet, I'd like to share this link- Peace Winds Japan was mentioned in a New York Times online article
This article identifies the youth involvement in the disaster relief so that I thought your student might be interested in it.

I also had another interview with the German press. I hope that the world doesn't forget about the Japanese disaster yet. I also want to remind your readers that the nuclear power plant is not the only issue here.

What I am surprised and impressed the most in the field is Tohoku people's strong passion for their home town, the high quality knowledge and skills of their work, their passion for the work, and love for one another. Even after this much disaster, the people still want to reconstruct their houses, fish, and get back to a normal life in their home town.

In order to do so, people are NOT just the victims of this earthquake, they are already starting the reconstruction on their own - at the individual level. We are not here to save them, but we are here to fill in the gaps so that they can manage things on their own.

This is really encouraging and also impressive - and definitely keeps us going in our work."

Thank you for this update, Mao - and best wishes for your work!

Good news - and the difficulty of getting accurate information

Masashi has pointed out the difficulty of getting accurate and timely information in a context that changes so quickly. He also reports that the drinking water situation has improved in Iitate village. His comments are below.

"Yesterday (April 1), the IAEA updated their analysis on radioactive materials in Iitate's soil, and the detected level of radioactive iodine (7 million Bq/m2) is below the IAEA's safe limits (10 million Bq/m2). This result is based on the analysis using 15 soil data collected by the Japanese government between March 19 and 29.

It is really confusing to have this kind of totally opposite messages. However, the nature of the distribution of radioactive materials takes such a sporadic pattern, it seems understandable to have different results if we calcurate averages using different samples.

Iitate village released a short announcement on March 31. On April 1st, this short announcement mentioned the first version of the IAEA's statement and the opinion of the Japanese government on this IAEA's analysis. Facing these conflicting views, Iitate village will continue watching the data collected within the village.

Also it announced that tap water is now drinkable in Iitate since the level of radioactive material is below 100 Bq/kg. However, they still recommend using bottled water which is distributed by the village for babies.

Iitate's short announcement No.2 (April1st) can be viewed via the following link (In Japanese only)">http://">